Huskies swept by McKendree in weekend series


Courtesy NIU Hockey

NIU senior forward Hunter Wahl in the Huskies’ season opener versus John Carroll University on Sept. 16, 2022. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Assistant Sports Editor

FEB. 3

O’FALLON – Defensive zone breakdowns and undisciplined play cost a short-handed NIU hockey in its first of a two-game series in O’Fallon, falling to the McKendree University Bearcats by a final score of 6-3 on Friday. 

The loss halted NIU’s (4-23, 1-14 MCH) two-game winning streak and extended McKendree’s (10-11, 8-5 MCH) winning streak to three games. 

The Huskies were forced to play with a short bench, missing sophomore defenseman Keaton Peters due to injury, senior forward Randy Apter due to a team suspension, freshman forward Evan Rzeszutko due to a league suspension and senior defenseman Colin Brey, who left the team with a family emergency.

Because his team was only down 3-2 after two periods on the road, head coach Brad Stoffers said the loss was a wasted opportunity. 

“When you have positions to win, you can’t mess it up for yourself. It’s just stupid,” Stoffers said. “You got to make the other team beat you. We got good goaltending, you know, we killed penalties until the end, we scored power play goals – the formula was there and we beat ourselves.”



NIU struggled to find its footing in the defensive zone, leading to McKendree players finding open ice and getting easy shots on Huskie junior goaltender Ben Vutci, who made 45 saves.

Stoffers said the breakdowns in coverage in the first two periods came down to one broken link in the chain.

“All three goals we had a guy standing right by the goalscorer. You got to grab a stick. It’s just execution,” Stoffers said. “Their first three goals were just individual breakdowns. One guy out of our five that was on the ice had a breakdown, missed their guy and it’s a goal.”

Sophomore defenseman Luke Marks said the coverage breakdowns were due to a lack of awareness of where McKendree players were. 

“Our weak side D (defense) man wasn’t picking up the high guy that would sink down into the top of the slot,” Marks said. “I think it was the cause of two, maybe three goals.”



Penalties again were an issue for NIU, taking nine penalties in the game – seven of which came in the last 40 minutes. 

Stoffers was not pleased with his team’s inability to stay out of the penalty box.

“We took at least four stupid penalties,” Stoffers said. “Eight minutes of penalty kill time we didn’t have to have. Stupid – like behind the play retaliations. I mean, just dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb stuff.” 

Senior forward Nick Gonzalez said the penalties made getting into the game hard for his team. 

“We were just always in the box,” Gonzalez said. “Always having to be on the penalty kill kind of kills momentum.


The game started well for NIU. Gonzalez struck for his fifth goal of the season just over seven minutes into the first period on the power play. Senior defenseman Austin Walny’s shot hit McKendree freshman goaltender Dylan Dallaire’s leg pad but bounced right to Gonzalez for an easy tap-in goal to give NIU a 1-0 lead. 

The Bearcats answered back a minute later when freshman forward Rycol Davis’ shot from the right circle beat Vutci on the far side to knot the score at 1-1. The Bearcats added one more goal from freshman forward Matias Alexandrov with 12 seconds left to take a 2-1 lead into intermission. 

NIU evened the score just over three minutes into the second period on Gonzalez’s second power play goal of the game and sixth goal of the season. 

Gonzalez’s goal was matched by Davis, who scored his second of the night with 6:21 remaining in the period. Davis’ goal went unanswered by either team and gave McKendree a 3-2 lead heading to the final 20 minutes. 

The third period saw the Bearcats bury three more goals – including Alexandrov’s second goal of the game – to take a 6-2 lead. Huskie senior forward Drake Gieseke scored his first goal of the season late in the period, but McKendree cruised the rest of the way for a 6-3 win. 

With another game against the Bearcats looming Saturday, Marks said the path to success lies in discipline. 

“We just got to stop beating ourselves – we give ourselves a lot of dumb penalties,” Marks said. “It’s a problem we’ve had all season and we just really have to get over it. And if we can do that – stop beating ourselves – we can actually start beating them.”

Having already beat the Bearcats this season, Stoffers knows his team is capable of bouncing back. 

“They’re (McKendree) a beatable team,” Stoffers said. “There’s nothing special about their game. So, it really falls on us.”


FEB. 4

A poor first five minutes by NIU hockey allowed the Bearcats all the offense it needed to earn an 8-0 thrashing of the Huskies on Saturday.

The win for the Bearcats (11-11, 9-5 MCH) secured a 3-1 regular-season series win over the Huskies (4-24, 1-15 MCH), who have now dropped four of their last six contests.

The Huskies have been notorious for starting slow on the road, and Saturday was no exception – giving up two goals in the first five minutes. Stoffers summed up what went wrong in the early stages of the game.

“We looked slow,” Stoffers said. “We looked out of shape, we had no energy … we had nothing right from puck drop.”

Playing from behind early in the game, freshman forward Evan Rzeszutko said the team lacked cohesion right from the get-go. 

“We were just running around, we didn’t stay in our positions and everyone was getting just jumbled up,” Rzeszutko said. “They (McKendree) would make one pass and be three guys in our own zone. It’s just never going to work.” 



The Bearcats scored three of their eight goals during the first or last two minutes of the first two periods. Stoffers has vocalized the importance of starting and finishing strong to his team and said it lays the groundwork for the whole game. 

“It’s something we’ve tried to talk about – it’s been an issue,” Stoffers said. “Those last two minutes, first two minutes of a period is always important, you know, just to set the tone for that timeframe.”

Senior forward Hunter Wahl said those crucial minutes will continue to be a point of emphasis until the team learns to lock it down. 

“That’s one of the things coach (Stoffers) likes to preach – we’ve preached it for a few weekends,” Wahl said. “Tonight wasn’t a good show of it so I’m sure we’ll be preaching it again next week.”

The Bearcats didn’t waste any time on offense early in the game. Freshman forward Chris Noble redirected a point shot past Huskie sophomore goaltender Grant Goodson to give his team the lead just two minutes in. Another goal from McKendree junior defenseman Trevor Roehrig three minutes later doubled the lead just over five minutes into the game. McKendree outshot the Huskies 13-0 in the first five minutes. 

The Huskies started getting shots on McKendree senior goaltender Adam Siek, outshooting the Bearcats 10-2 from the 15 minute mark to the five minute mark. But the Bearcats weathered the Huskie attack and tacked on one more goal with 12 seconds left in the period to take a 3-0 lead into the first intermission. 

The second period didn’t go any better for NIU. The Bearcats scored just 22 seconds into the period on a shot by Noble for his second marker of the game. Three more McKendree goals from junior forwards Brad Richardson and Steven Brachert and sophomore forward Blake Martin gave them a 7-0 lead after two periods. 

Noble recorded the only goal of the third period to complete the hat trick to secure an 8-0 win and a weekend series sweep over NIU. 

Stoffers was happy to finish a tough weekend in O’Fallon.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Stoffers said. “I couldn’t wait to hear the final buzzer.”


With the teams’ remaining games all on the road, Wahl said team preparation needs to go beyond the opening puck drop to have success in another teams’ building. 

“One thing we have to take away is we don’t have a road win,” Wahl said. “So, we definitely need to learn how to focus in more before even just the first period.”

With playoffs creeping up on the Huskies, Stoffers said the team needs to move on from the loss but still use it as a reminder of how the team needs to play. 

“I would lean more towards just forgetting,” Stoffers said. “You got two weeks left and then playoffs, and we’re going to have to be much, much better than what we were this weekend.”

NIU will be back on the ice next weekend when they travel to Albert Lea, Minnesota, to take on the Waldorf University Warriors (11-14-2, 5-8-2 MCH) at 7 p.m. on Friday at Albert Lea City Arena.